Introduction – Cross-Cultural Design


The web is rapidly globalizing. More devices and more access points mean more people—billions, in fact—are coming online, bringing all the behaviors, expressions, and expectations inherent to their cultures.

This huge multicultural audience represents an opportunity for those of us who work on the web. It’s an opportunity to ask questions of them, to observe their lived social experiences, and to choose more effective solutions that fulfill their needs. It’s also an opportunity to critically analyze the impact of culture in interactive design, a process that makes our work stronger and more accessible in the global marketplace.

One of the biggest mistakes I see in design today is the assumption that users all come from WEIRD (Westernized, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Developed) cultures. That assumption often flows unquestioned through our entire design process. Our high-quality monitors and fast data connections do not always mimic the experiences of our users. We use imagery, typography, and taxonomies familiar to us, without researching their impact in other cultures and languages. Those of us in WEIRD countries treat the web as an extension of our own lived experiences.

If you are reading this book, then you are interested in changing your assumptions about how interfaces and websites act across cultures. This book sets out a framework for navigating and designing the highly diverse web, in a way that breeds respect and curiosity.

You won’t find an examination of “diversity” as a business catchphrase in these pages. You most certainly will not learn empathy, or basic respect for other humans. You will, however, encounter challenges to design practices that you consider second nature, asking you to rethink, at a deep social level, how your choices impact your multicultural audiences.

Those choices will come in a variety of situations, and what is considered “cross-cultural” may be more common than you think! You might be working on a digital project with an existing global customer base. Perhaps you’ve already started, and after talking to the client, you realized the project will require more cultural sensitivity than you bargained for. Maybe you are a content strategist or user experience designer, and you are about to begin conducting research with a wide range of users from different cultures. Maybe you have been asked to perform an interface audit on a website for US-based dentists—of whom about twenty-four percent are immigrants, and four percent are not citizens (

Or maybe—and this is the one I hope for most—you just want to deepen your skill set. Whether your work is in research, content strategy, interface design, or interactive experiences, your projects already reach a multicultural audience. Whatever your motivation, this book will help you address that audience with clarity and purpose.

  • In Chapter 1, we’ll start by defining our modern digital audiences and their experiences on the web. Then we’ll look at their needs and preferences through the theory of cultural dimensions.
  • Chapter 2 focuses on the core principles of cross-cultural design, offering a framework for working on culturally adaptable products and experiences. We’ll look at how to contextualize the challenges you face as you design across cultures.
  • In Chapter 3, we’ll explore the role of the cross-cultural practitioner. We’ll define the skills, actions, and ways of thinking that will make your projects and teams more successful as you take on this work.
  • In Chapter 4, we will look at techniques for conducting user experience research with global audiences—and how that research can help us create effective user personas that reduce unconscious biases.
  • Chapter 5 demonstrates how the core parts of design systems can become more culturally responsive and multifaceted, and offers practical steps for creating culturally effective design artifacts.
  • In Chapter 6, we address internationalization and localization—the processes of adapting your content, design strategy, and interfaces to accommodate additional languages, nationalities, and cultures.

Throughout, I use stories to examine interesting truths and quirks of culture as we examine those key concepts. Plan to read and analyze them critically. Treat these chapters as a manual, one that analyzes different parts of the cross-cultural design process and explains key ideas, concepts, and techniques you will need to tell your own stories.

By the time you reach the end, I want you to feel empowered to approach cross-cultural design projects in a new way. Even if it’s out of your comfort zone, I hope you gain a new perspective on what it means to be a designer in a globalized world and your role in making the web a richer experience for us all, regardless of language, culture, or identity.